Top 10 ways to deal with customer complaints

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Jamie-Natalie Cross explains how to turn customer complaints into a winning opportunity for your business.

Whether you're a large company or small business, you’re likely to have to deal with a client complaint at some point. It’s not always a reflection on your business approach; if you’re juggling several clients at once the odds are that there will be at least one person who isn’t completely satisfied at any one time.

While it's easy to play the blame game when things go wrong, if you want to keep the client the best thing is to remain professional and tackle problems quickly and methodically when dealing with customer complaints. Solving a problem effectively can also be a great opportunity for your business to create happy clients and perhaps even generate new referrals. 

Top tips

  1. Quick thinking: Once you receive a complaint, don’t leave it. Reply to the letter, email, phone call, blog post or tweet as soon as possible, no matter how outrageous you might think it is.
  2. Observe and take note: Try and be open-minded and understanding about the situation. Write down anything you feel is important and ask questions.
  3. Make an apology: Regardless of your opinion, offering some form of apology can help. While in some cases it may not be legally advisable to apologise, you can still say ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, ‘I’m sorry that wasn’t our intention’, or ‘I am sorry for your inconvenience’. This shows your sympathy and may help to calm the situation.
  4. Be composed: In high stress situations it’s easy to become irritable, but if you allow this to happen you might say something you regret which could have repercussions for the business. If find yourself becoming irritated, suggest that you’ll call the client back and try to take some time out for yourself to calm down.
  5. Be positive: Try and take an optimistic approach to the problem and focus on what you can do to help rather than what you can’t do.
  6. Think of your business: Whilst you are dealing with a complaint, show genuine concern. This could help turn the situation into a positive outcome, helping with future business dealings and ultimately aiding your reputation as a company.
  7. Communicate regularly: Keep your client in the know if the problem cannot be solved straight away. They will only become irritated if they don’t know what’s happening, so stay in contact and explain how you’re tackling the problem.
  8. Own the problem: If the problem is yours, take responsibility for it solve it as best you can. If it’s not down to you, find out who is involved and make sure you delegate it properly so that all parties know who is responsible for correcting it. As the first point of contact, the client  or customer will be looking to you for answers, so make sure you address that straight away and don’t just leave them hanging on.
  9. Discover the reasons: As well as solving the problem in the here and now, it’s important to understand why the problem happened so it can be avoided in the future. Make a note of lessons learnt and see what you can do to change your processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  10. Serious complaints: If you’ve tried to resolve the problem without success, it might be time to call in a third party such as a legal adviser who can offer more impartial advice and a new perspective on the problem.

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About Dan Martin

About Dan Martin

Dan Martin has 10 years experience as a journalist writing about entrepreneurs and the issues that affect them.

After three years working as a researcher for Sky News, he joined as a reporter. This was followed by two years working as news editor for during which time Dan also contributed to Growing Business magazine. In 2006, he joined Sift Media as business editor before being promoted to editor of He also has responsibility for UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online forums for small business entrepreneurs. In addition, Dan founded The Pitch,'s nationwide competition for small business owners. He host the grand finals in 2009 and 2010 in front of an audience of 300. 

As well as interviewing many entrepreneurs, Dan has written content for leading business organisations such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, British Chambers of Commerce, Forum of Private Business, Investors in People and Business Link for London. Among the publications that have quoted Dan are The Times, Mail On Sunday, Financial Times, Personnel Today and Bristol Evening Post. His articles have also been published by publications including eGov Monitor, Virgin Express in-flight magazine and Personal Success.

Dan regularly speaks at events about small business and social media issues. Among the events he has presented at are the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies' annual conference, Learning Technologies, Publishing Expo and World of Learning. He has also chaired high profile debates featuring senior representatives from Business Link and the Federation of Small Businesses and Dragons' Den judge James Caan.

Dan was named the 10th most influential political blogger on Twitter by the Independent and won the public award for best B2B tweeter at the Golden Twits 2010. He also organised the Bristol Twestival, part of a global Twitter driven charity initiative, in February 2009 and March 2010. Volunteers from 175 cities around the world organised events using the social network. In total, $350,000 was raised for charity: water in 2009 and $500,000 for Concern in 2010. In Bristol, £1,500 and £5,600 was raised.


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By blogmum
05th Mar 2010 14:04

‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ 

Be really careful with that one. It's so well-known as an "apology without apologising", it has huge potential to make things worse. My bank said it to me the other day, and my instant, unthinking reaction was "yes, because you'd rather not be having to deal with my complaint". Making noises like you're going to sort the problem out is a whole bunch more important than making soothing noises that don't get anyone any further forward. 


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By JohnShenton
05th Mar 2010 16:35

The best way to deal with ciutomer complaints in my opinion is to have a complaints policy as well as a process.

The policy should outline what position your business is adopting to clients that may complain and is necessary if employees are to take actions on your behalf - ie - the customer is always right {now a wise policy but one that does work for some business types}

The process should be simple and clear, one that can be described to an upset customer so that they know you will be taking them seriously and that they will get a follow up and a conclusion.

The fists action is acknowledgement - this is what the customer is asking for by complaining. This is an objective response to an emotional request.

Break the complain down - what happened - when did it happen , where and so on.

What was the end result that the customer felt they needed to complain about?

What does the customer want to happen? - this is the simplest and most important question

In most cases this can resolve the situation quickly and efficiently and cost effectively.

Here is the most important part - do not assume that you need to take an action the client does not want.

Once you have understood the problem either agree to fix it straight away or agree to go back with a resolution ofr and answer within a reasonable time frame - and agree this with them.

Now you must solve it and get back to them = thanking them for taking the time to point out where something has gone wrong - no need to apologise and thank you is much stronger.

Find a way to stay in touch with them as a valued client - say you have an offer for a discount or invitation for example - now you have tuned a negative into a positive

Make it easy for them and for you - you will both feel good about it.

John Shenton

Business Improvement Associates

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By David Evans
27th Jul 2012 12:20

Great post. Dealing with customer complaints is something that all companies will have to deal with at some point. Dealing with customer complaints can be tricky but there are some tips that can be taken to make it easier such as the ones in the list. It is importan to ask the right questions, listen and establish a clear and appropriate course of action. Do not let emotions get in the way of performing your tasks objectively.


-- Dave Evans Commercial Director at accessplanit Specialist in learning management system and training administration software.

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By jiya
13th Nov 2017 11:41

In order to maintain the name and status of the company it is very necessary to deal properly with the clients. Clients are our major target and they should be treated well if they come to you with some complaint against the product. directv 2 year price lock

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15th Nov 2017 11:45

I think these tips will be useful to all those who are running a business. We have to realize the fact that customers are our assets and have to deal with them nicely. Customers have the right to give complaint about our service. We have to handle it wisely. Triple Play

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